Brian Bolt has a rare and newly-discovered condition known as Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. And thanks to his young Hillsville nephew, Bolt is still alive to talk about it.
Diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in October of last year, Bolt was in the hospital for two months in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia before being released just before Christmas. He was on vacation with family members in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. on March 7 enjoying a swim in the pool like most any other normal person would on vacation. Swimming in and under the water, Bolt appeared to be fine. One of the many symptoms of Bolt’s condition includes random seizures, however.
“Brian had been swimming under the water and we knew there was a chance he could have a seizure. But usually by the beginning of the day you can tell if he is going to have one because he gets super cranky and confused. He hadn’t been like that on that day,” Bolt’s sister, Bridget Hamm said. “They were swimming and my son Keaton got this look on his face and pulled Brian out of the water. He kind of flipped him over and that’s when we saw Brian’s face and realized he was having a seizure.”
By the time other family members could get there, it took two adults to get Bolt out of the pool. But before that, Bolt’s nephew, Keaton Hamm, a 10-year-old homeschool student from Hillsville, was able to pull Bolt from the middle of the four-foot deep pool to the side.
“And then me and another man who was swimming there helped pull him out. The man who pulled him out didn’t know how to swim. He was a short man and it was a stressful situation,” Bridget Hamm said “We turned him over on his side to try to get the water he had in his mouth out. While he was coming back to, we told him he had a seizure, and after that he popped back up and we made sure he hadn’t swallowed a lot of water. Thankfully he hadn’t because Keaton got him up really quick.”
Keaton’s mother said he is typically a fairly nervous child. However, five years in the Cub Scouts have been wonderful for him, she said, and may have helped save Bolt’s life.
“I can’t remember when, but he had done water safety training with the Cub Scouts to learn how to save someone if they are drowning. It teaches you how to stay calm,” Bridget Hamm said. “That is what amazed us the most was how calm he stayed. He is not normally calm. I know it was part God, but also part what he learned in scouts. We are definitely proud of him and thankful.”
Hamm is scheduled to graduate from the Cub Scouts and move up the ranks to the Boy Scouts in about a month. She said Keaton didn’t know why everybody made such a big deal out of his life-saving efforts that day.
“He was acting like it wasn’t a big deal,” Bridget Hamm said. “He said, ‘Wouldn’t everybody have gotten him out of the water?’”
Keaton said he and his uncle Brian are big buddies. They like to hang out and cut up a lot. So when it first happened, Keaton said he thought his uncle was messing around.
“I thought he was faking at first. He was sort of floating. But he wasn’t coming back up out of the water and that is how I knew what was happening,” Keaton said. “It was scary. I picked him up and brought him to the edge of the pool where my mom was. I was able to pick him up and just kind of drag him like a baby, but he was sort of heavy. I was calm, but I was also nervous. I was worried about him.”
Keaton said he was pretty nervous when his uncle was pulled out of the water. He said he felt sort of like a hero, but felt like anybody else would have done the same thing.
“I think being in the Cub Scouts helped me,” he said.
Keaton Hamm is a member of Cub Scout Pack 810 from Woodlawn. His Cub Master is Greg Waller and his leaders are Mitch Dalton and Darrell Lineberry.
Bridgett Hamm said Bolt’s Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis condition has only been discovered within the past decade or so. She said there are only seven other known cases in the world as bad as Bolt’s. The first symptom Bolt exhibited was extreme irritability at work.
“People at work noticed he had a short fuse and was very irritable. The next one was seizures. He also had sort of psychotic behavior – he thought the doctors were Walmart employees trying to kill him or he would make people raise their hands in the air before they talked to him,” she said. “He lost control of his tongue and arms and legs for a while. His tongue would just roll out of his mouth. He lost his vision for a little while and also his hearing for a couple of days. He had to learn how to walk again. There were so many symptoms.”
Just 25 years of age, Bolt was perfectly healthy before he started showing signs of the condition in October. Because of his good health prior, it made it very frustrating for doctors.
“It’s an auto-immune disease so something in his body was fighting against his brain, which caused his brain to swell, causing all these problems,” Bridget Hamm said. “It started October 14 and he got a diagnosis two weeks later at UVa and it was a blur to say the least.”
While still not a lot is known about Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, of the seven cases worse than Bolt’s, three have made a 100 percent recovery. The family is hopeful Bolt can add his name to that list.
“They feel like Brian will because he has responded so quickly. He is just now talking. If you see him out you can’t tell anything is wrong except he has seizures about five times a week,” Bridget Hamm said. “There is still on a lot of medicine he’s on and it’s a long process. It usually takes about a year for the ones that do make a full recovery to recover.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 789-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN